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New Law Could Finally Make Animal Cruelty a Felony Nationwide

Because somehow this isn't already the case.

Two Florida congressmen have introduced a bill that would make animal cruelty a felony under federal law. Reps. Ted Deutch, a Democrat from Boca Raton, and Vern Buchanan, a Republican who represents Sarasota, introduced the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture, or PACT, Act into the new Congress on January 23.

The text of that act targets “actual conduct in which one or more living non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians is purposely crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or otherwise subjected to serious bodily injury.”

There are exceptions for veterinary care, slaughter for food, sporting activities, pest control, medical research, euthanasia, and other special circumstances.

There’s also a line saying that the law should be enforced consistently with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law that prevents the government from placing a “substantial burden on a person’s exercise of religion” unless it’s the least restrictive way to serve a compelling government interest. The law was severely curtailed by the Supreme Court, but its explicit mention in the PACT presumably means that animal sacrifice in a religious ceremony might, in at least some cases, still be legal.

In a press release, the Human Society Legislative Fund explained the gap in the current law. It is a felony in all 50 states to commit “malicious acts of animal cruelty” and a federal crime, thanks to the Animal Crush Video Protect Act, to produce or distribute videos of such acts.

However, the federal government currently has no recourse to prosecute a malicious act of animal cruelty that occurs on federal property or affects interstate commerce that is not captured on video.

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This loophole was protected twice before by former House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, who prevented the PACT Act from coming to the floor for a vote of the full House twice before despite the fact that in the last Congress it had 284 cosponsors in the House and passed the Senate unanimously.

With Goodlatte no longer in office and 177 members already signed on to the bill as cosponsors, its chances for passing this time around seem much greater.